In order to succeed, fiction must have story sustaining conflict that keeps characters’ backs against the wall as they fight against the bad guys, against themselves, against god, against whatever can be thrown at them. Conflict needs to rise as the story progresses, but it also needs to rise in believable-in-keeping-with-the-story fashion. A man, for example, who wakes to find a price on his life, might then flee only to have every avenue of escape cut off: his car gone, his back accounts drained, his network of support suddenly vanished. It all follows and makes it harder for the character to fight his way out of a bad situation. What wouldn’t make a lot of sense, or remain in the story vein, would be for that man to then start worshipping the pack of purple rhinos that materialized on the corner of 8th and Main. Purple rhinos would make an interesting facet of another story but this man on the run, trying to save his own life, has his hands full. Conflict is only good if it’s believable and cohesive, and it’s the lack of believable cohesion that plagues Susan Grant’s Your Planet, or Mine.
Okay, I admit it: I judge books by their covers. You can’t tell me that you don’t. Humans are visual creatures. At some point, you’re looking at the cover of a book and thinking, “Hmm, that looks like exactly what I want.”
I did that with Kelley Armstrong’s Dime Store Magic. It has one of those shades-of-blue covers that suggests a sexy paranormal. Oddly (for me), I was in the mood for a sexy paranormal. The blue shadows suggested something along the lines of dark, too. I was in the mood for dark. One of those weeks, you know.
I didn’t quite get what I expected.
The Young Adult genre has blown wide open in the last few years, tripling in size and print runs; where once a teen reader was stranded in the no man’s land between Intermediate and Adult Fiction they now have many authors vying for their age group and attention. With women doing the majority of the book buying, it is no surprise that young, female protagonists populate the shelves. Whether they are mean girls, the target of mean girls or dealing with issues that range from body image to rape, authors find ways to interpret the teenage experience in new and (hopefully) interesting ways. To this end, a sub-genre has even developed where authors overlay high school woes with a paranormal sheen, giving the unwanted high school label “freak” a whole new meaning.
Trust is a far reaching issue in romance. There are heroes who doubt heroines, and heroines who lack faith in heroes, and authors who don’t trust their readers. Two of those trust issues manage to faithfully resolve themselves before the happily ever after. The third is a real problem. Too often romances are plagued by authors who write down to their readers, over simplify and over explain. Unsurprisingly, the resulting fiction is a joyless chore. Authors who write intelligently, in anticipation of an intelligent readership are a rare, but welcome, find. Romance that trusts the reader not only engages, but begs the question: why isn’t all romance like this? Why isn’t intelligent writing a minimum requirement for the genre? Why isn’t it a starting point from which to improve, instead of an exceptional find?
Susan Donovan trusts her audience: it’s obvious in the way she takes a well used romance setup and treats it as though it hasn’t been done over and over again; it’s obvious from the way she doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator; and it’s obvious from the way she expects the reader to keep up with her writing instead of spoon feeding every bit of information.
The best writers are not, necessarily, those with the best ideas; they’re they ones with the best execution. Richard Russo’s Empire Falls is simply a re-telling of Great Expectations. Russo certainly isn’t the only one to undertake that very common idea, and yet there is fine-spun brilliance in every line of Empire Falls and that is why the book won the Pulitzer. Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation is the story of a big city girl from the wrong side of the tracks and a small town boy whose family runs the town. Romance has seen that setup time and again, yet Crusie slipped magic and subtext into the tale and a finer poor girl/rich boy story cannot be found. The ideas aren’t worth much, but the achievements are priceless
Michelle Rowen’s sophomore effort, Angel with Attitude, sounds like a great idea: the heroine, Valerie Grace is an angel, and the hero, Nathaniel, is a demon. It stacks up to be the ultimate good girl/bad boy story: she’s just wants to get back to heaven and he wants to coax her to hell. This is delicious. What common ground could such a couple have? How far will she fall? Can he be redeemed? The answers don’t really matter. It is how those answers unfold that prove whether the setup succeeds or fails. Like all ideas, Angel with Attitude comes down to the execution.
Carlotta Wren’s life is a mess. Her parents skipped town rather than stand up in a courtroom for their white collar crimes. So, at eighteen, Carlotta lost her fiancee and financial security, but gained full-time care of her baby brother Wesley. Now, years later, her baby brother continues to seek out trouble and every gambling opportunity possible. Being on the financial edge and in debt to everyone, Wesley’s antics threaten both Carlotta and Wesley.
But Wesley is the least of Carlotta’s problems. There’s the return of her ex-fiancee, the murder of the ex-fiancee’s now-wife, a mysterious detective, a hot former doctor who gives Wesley a chance and Carlotta more than one look, a questionable female attorney with a shady link to Carlotta’s father and a probation officer who looks more like a stripper than a member of law enforcement. And those are only the main characters in Stephanie Bond’s newest, Body Movers, the first installment in an ongoing series.
Let the discussion begin.
These days it’s difficult to trip over a pink covered book without hearing talk of chick lit’s death. But, how fatal is this death? Is it the same sort of plague westerns fell victim to, when a genre that was once all powerful disappeared from bookstore shelves? Or, is it more like the nuclear winter Hair Bands of the 80s faced when a glut of pretty boy groups perished under Seattle’s influence with only a couple of bands proving to have talent and staying power?
What hope is there for this admittedly bloated genre of fiction? While the one-thousandth retelling of a plucky single girl in the city, who drinks trendy cocktails and lusts after an obvious cad doesn’t hold appeal, the much boarder spectrum of chick lit does. There are still stories to be told, and, quite simply, there is a need for a fictional medium for irreverent young women and the third wave feminism issues they face.
This is the fifth book in MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series, following the death and times of Betsy, Queen of the Vampires. Though a Minnesota native, Betsy Taylor is the quintessential Valley Girl. Tall, blonde and leggy with a shoe fetish, she was living an ordinary life when she was killed in an auto accident—and rose again as Queen of the Vampires. Undead and Unpopular follows the trials and tribulations of Queen Betsy as she tries to come to terms with her undead life. Like the previous book, Undead and Unreturnable, Undead and Unpopular can stand on its own. However, it’s better to read the books in sequence, beginning with Undead and Unwed.
Chicklit gets a bad rap because over-zealous acquisitions editors went crazy with “single girl looking for love and high-paying jobs in the city” stories. The commensurate market saturation left a bad taste in many a reader’s mouth (not to mention creating much fodder for dissing an entire genre). I suspect a lot of readers were like me – desperately seeking fiction with a romantic edge, realistic stories, and smart writing (oh, for more smart writing).
I suspect a lot of readers were like me and dropped out of chicklit game because finding the good was damn hard work.
I dedicate this review to those readers. There is hope.
Romance and chick lit are not art forms that succeed or fail on originality. Readers and authors alike might chafe at the notion that every romance is the same, save for the hair color of the hero and heroine, and one chick lit novel is only distinguishable from another by the shade of pink on the cover, but those sentiments hold a lot of truth, even if the verbiage is meant to demean. And that truth — that plotlines like Cinderella’s maid to princess tale are told over and over again — is really OK. Really. There is a certain comfort in knowing what a book holds before the first page is read. What isn’t known, and where romance and chick lit have the opportunity to succeed or fail, is with what each author will bring to well used constructs. It’s the reworking of the familiar and injection of freshness into the staid that makes a twice (or more) told tale something that stands out. Without those elements, romance and chick lit become caricatures of themselves.
Alesia Holliday’s Seven Ways to Lose Your Lover is intended as a lighthearted romp through the minefield of personals relationships. Its goal isn’t any loftier than to entertain. The end result is decidedly mixed, as it’s too easy to see the well worn elements and not easy enough to see the freshness.